Leading Article: Charity comic gets the last laugh

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Sandi Toksvig is a wry and dry comedienne, mistress of the withering one-liner. Armed with the verbal dexterity of Dorothy Parker, she is cool and collected. During appearances on stage and television, she stoops to conquer ignorance and stupidity in their many guises. So the recent behaviour of Save the Children towards Ms Toksvig has provided her with a plentiful supply of comic material.

For many years, Ms Toksvig has been an active supporter of Save the Children and has starred for them at public events. Among some members of that organisation, it was an open secret that Ms Toksvig is a 'lesbian mother', caring for her female partner's children who were conceived by artificial insemination. But Ms Toksvig did not bang a drum about her home life. Then last month, she explained her personal circumstances in a newspaper interview.

Save the Children panicked. Fearful of fall-out from the tabloid press, the charity dropped her from a scheduled appearance at its 75th anniversary celebrations. The reason, said the Pooterish trustees, was that her presence 'might distract from the events of the day'. It was a graceless reward for the comic's loyalty. Only belatedly, this week, did the charity issue a public apology to her, but not in time for the anniversary event.

Save the Children's initial reaction was to some extent understandable. All charities have to worry about involving themselves in controversies which may have a negative effect upon donations. But Save the Children was wrong.

Public organisations make an important contribution to setting the tone of what is and is not acceptable in society. Save the Children is an organisation that depends upon the public possessing the imagination to engage with individuals whose lives are far removed from their own.

In allowing Ms Toksvig to appear at their function, the charity would not have been commenting upon her lifestyle; by cancelling the engagement, it appeared to do so.

Fortunately, Ms Toksvig appears to have borne the charity's snub with good grace and with humour. Other organisations should note this story and make sure that when they encounter similar temptations to yield to populist pressures, they think twice. Otherwise, the joke will be on them too.